6 Of Your Favorite Foods (That Have Horrible Secrets)
We don't mean to overstate our case, but some might say that food is literally crucial to human survival. That's why, over time, we've learned to stop eating random berries in the forest and pay attention to what exactly we're putting into our food holes. But while we assume that our restaurants, grocery stores, and farmers are being honest about what they're selling, the horrific truth is that what they're truly feeding us are lies. Damn lies.
And sometimes mold.
Wineries Are Spiking Wines With Wood Chips And Grape Juice
Good wine, the kind that doesn't come in boxes with a mascot on it, can get expensive. It's made from the finest of grapes, and is then left to ferment in caskets made of rich oak. That's why wines with a deep color and a slightly wooden taste are a surefire sign of quality. Except that wineries have found a much more efficient way of giving their wine its oaken flavor: They simply put wood in the wine.
Turns out that those barrels you saw on the tour of your local winery may have only been for show. Wooden barrels are now being replaced with steel vats, but to keep the wine's expensive oaken taste, it gets mixed with "barrel alternatives." That's a fancy term for wood staves, chips, and even shavings thrown into a vat along with the wine. Why? Because using shavings shaves a dollar off the price of a bottle (on their end, of course, not ours), up until all those splinter-related lawsuits presumably start pouring in.
But that's not the only way wineries are cutting corners. A lot of wine is made using something called "Mega Purple," which sounds like the main villain in a coloring-themed manga. It's a grape concentrate, or slurry, which big wine labels add to underwhelming red wine to intensify the flavor and color and sometimes even to mask spoilage. It's estimated that over 25 million bottles get spiked with Mega Purple on a yearly basis. Many wineries rely so heavily on it that they have their own reverse-osmosis machines which let them make their own concentrates by extracting the alcohol from their shitty wines to pump up slightly less shitty wine. Yummy.
And then there's the migrant labor. California's famous Napa Valley is heavily dependent on migrant laborers, to the extent that The New York Times wrote that "nearly every drop" of the wine depends on them. And lest you think they're being treated well, that's not how migrant labor works. Vineyards overwork their laborers, and often cheat them out of most of their paychecks through exorbitant living expenses, making it so that a typical worker might only earn $10 for ten hours of backbreaking work. It seems that from field to cellar, something other than grapes is being squeezed.
A Third Of All Fish Is Intentionally Mislabeled
Like most humans (except for those people who compulsively eat pennies), we're very particular about the things we eat. As a result, "mystery meat" is regarded as less of a gourmet experience and more of a post-apocalyptic necessity. But in seafood restaurants, one out of three times, what you shovel on your fork might not be what you pointed at on the menu at all.
As we've mentioned before, the food industry has a long history of falsely labeling things to attract picky customers. However, when it comes to selling fish, mislabeling has become an epidemic. According to an investigation by Oceana, which tested 1,200 samples from supermarkets and restaurants across 21 states, it was discovered that 33 percent of fish were mislabeled. In South California, that number rose to an astonishing 52 percent, meaning there were more phony fish than the real McCod. Nowhere but LA could even their fish be mostly fake.
The fish most likely to be counterfeit was red snapper. Of the 120 samples they tested, only seven were in truth red snapper, making them the rarest fish to spot, second only to the Loch Ness monster. White tuna also belongs on a milk carton, as 84 percent of its samples turned out to be escolar, which can cause nasty digestive problems. Other commonly mislabeled fish include halibut, grouper, cod, and Chilean sea bass. And it turns out that sushi restaurants also rest their sashimi on a bed of lies, because 74 percent of the samples from such venues were mislabeled, making your local gas station actually the safest place to eat sushi.
So for those of us who would like to know what sea monster we're shoveling down our throats, here's a helpful chart:
As you can tell, lots of these hidden fish don't sound too tasty, and they're also nowhere near as valuable as the listed fish. But even if they were as good (they aren't), not a lot of people would pay the same for some slickback, toothfish, or weakfish ... or giltheaded seabream, which sounds like one of Jethro Tull's lesser albums. We're most worried about the Asian "catfish," but that's because we don't believe in eating food that comes with a garnish of quotation marks.
Farmers Markets And Farm-To-Table Restaurants Are Full Of Frauds
Tired of the faceless franchise eateries serving over-salted slop? The depressingly lit chain supermarkets selling you genetically modified, hormone-injected, battery-farmed zucchinis? Well then it's time to put on your horn-rimmed glasses and plaid shirt and head on over to those quaint farmers markets and farm-to-table eateries for some wholesome, unmolested food. Except that the ethical side of food production isn't all that ethical either, having been infiltrated by frauds and con artists. Who knew you couldn't trust some random dude in overalls?
In California, farmers market cheaters are running rampant. Plenty of the state is farmland, so it's easy to assume most of your food is coming straight from the field. However, when the NBCLA did an undercover investigation of farmers markets in the area, they discovered that many of them were clearly selling produces they hadn't cultivated themselves.
See, in order to sell at a farmers market, you actually have to be a farmer -- a verified one, with a pitchfork and everything. But when the NBCLA drove to the "farms," all they found were a bunch of weeds / dirt fields. So unless these farmers were all part of some wizardly hippie collective magicking up their produce out of thin air, it's safe to assume they were selling you the same stuff you could find at a Walmart at half the price. Fake farmers are popping up all over the country, some of them so brazen that they'll specifically label their food pesticide-free while having no idea whether that's true or not. How would they know? They're not really farmers.
The same sort of chicanery goes on at farm-to-table restaurants. A series of exposes in The Tampa Bay Times revealed the myriad ways your favorite locally sourced hipster eating collective could be lying to you, from frozen food masquerading as fresh and buying pre-made dishes, to fish mislabeling and food marked as "organic" or "non-GMO" which was the exact opposite. As the owner of the famous Chino Farms noted: "Chefs will come, write down notes, leave without buying anything, and then say they're serving our food at their restaurants." They hypocrisy is so intense that one restaurant even had a "F**k Monsanto Salad" on its menu (along with truffle fries), but when a reporter confronted the chef about where he got his produce, he shrugged and said, "It's really hard to find non-GMO produce." But it's so, so easy to lie.
Lots Of Craft Whiskey Labels Don't Even Make Their Own Alcohol
Whiskey is the drink that breaks through all social barriers -- and we don't just mean that it'll make you get naked in public. The brown stuff is famous for its variety in taste, each brand having its own distinct flavor profile. There's a whiskey out there for everyone, almost literally these days. With the growing popularity of small batches, hundreds of artisanal whiskeys are bringing their subtly unique flavor to the masses. Well, not all that unique, really, as most American small batches all come from the same giant vats in Indiana.
While craft whiskeys like to pretend they're all wholesome small businesses distilling hooch from an ancient family recipe, the sad truth that this is often a marketing stunt. To cut corners, many of these new artisanal labels buy their alcohol wholesale from a single factory distillery in Indiana. MGP (formerly Seagrams) mass produces all kinds of alcohol (including "food grade industrial alcohol"), and is known for its low cost and consistency in taste -- the same consistency that then gets poured into dozens of differently labeled bottles, each boasting of their "individual and unique" taste. So if you ever wondered how you were able to buy 15-year-aged rye from a company that only started in June, there's your answer.
As for the why, start-up distilleries often use the same excuse. They do it as "a means to develop a brand and help fund the next step" of distilling their own alcohol. But it's easier and cheaper and lazier, and often they never stop. Some craft labels even go as far as to create "Potemkin distilleries" -- shiny distilleries that produce nothing but the appearance of self-sufficiency while the label keeps slinging their cheap factory booze. Even some pretty large labels cut the same corners, such as Bulleit, George Dickel rye, and Angel's Envy, while other so-called craft labels are in fact owned by bigger, more mass-produced companies looking to upsell their leftovers. Most of them don't even modify their factory booze before they pour it into their fancy bottles, which turn out to be the only things they put some effort into.
But if you really like MGP's stuff (after all, you've probably already drunk loads of it without realizing), at least there's one label that doesn't lie to you. Knotter (as in "not our") Bourbon markets its booze with the statement "We didn't distill this bourbon. Nope, not a drop." Now that's the kind of straight-shootin' honesty we like to see.
Related: Inside The Black Market For Whiskey
Licorice Causes All Sorts Of Medical Problems
Licorice is one of those divisive candies. Either you love 'em, or you've eaten the black ones. Its distinctive taste comes from the licorice root, a plant that shows nature can easily be a very boring Willy Wonka. But as is the case with any plant life, new biological discoveries can change the way we look at them each day. And unfortunately for licorice fans out there, licorice root is terrible for you.
In 2001, Finnish researchers discovered that licorice root is a complicating factor in pregnancies, leading to premature birth -- so best not use it as a teething tool either unless you want your kid to stay under four feet. But the list goes on. The root can also be a contributing factor in kidney disease, breast malignancies, and (obviously) diabetes. It can also interfere with medicines such as blood thinners and insulin. It's poison, is what we're saying. Just be safe and eat sugar straight out of the bag.
But don't worry about those little health niggles, as licorice can straight up kill you as well. Because it screws with your potassium level, the FDA has warned people over 40 that they can develop heart problems merely by eating two ounces of licorice candy daily for two weeks. The FDA even went so far as to say that everyone, regardless of their age or how healthy they are, should be careful consuming licorice. Fortunately, the problem is usually reversible if you stop eating the stuff. Great! It's the cigarettes of sweets! Time for a whole new ad campaign.
The Best "Aged" Steaks Involve Mold
Aged steak is delicious. It's so delicious that most of us never even question why on earth "aging" meat would be a good thing; it just obviously is. And for those of you who would like to keep living with that ignorant bliss, best you stop reading here and go enjoy a juicy Matrix steak right now.
For the rest of you intrepid explorers ... we don't know how to sugar-coat this for you, so we're just going to show you what your $80 dry-aged steak looks like 15 minutes before you put it in your mouth.
The somewhat-revolting truth is that steak gets aged by controlled rotting -- like cheese, only made from the decaying carcass of a dead animal. Dry-aging beef, the old-school way of doing it, is done by placing the meat in an environment where the chef controls the temperature, humidity, and ventilation. This process causes the meat to dry in a way to increases its flavor while the beef slowly decays and becomes more tender. Meanwhile, the outer layer of the beef quickly transforms into a horrific crust of mold, which is then cut off right before you eat it, which means hobos eating out of the dumpster and people paying a few hundred dollars for a steak do have something in common after all.
Unfortunately, this fungus feast for steak lovers is only getting worse, as gourmet restaurants are starting a crazy arms race about it, trying to out-age each other like they're bitter rivals who wound up in the same retirement home. 55-day steak, 100-day steak, 180-day steak ... soon, you'll have an aged steak that's old enough to drive. The current winner appears to be the Dallas Chop House in Texas (where else) which served a 459-day steak. If they'd aged it any longer, it'll look about as appetizing as a zombie from The Walking Dead right before it hits your plate.
So while the food industry is constantly lying to you about where and how your favorite eatings come into being, we guess the moral here is that sometimes, we should be grateful for the lies.
Dry-aging steak at home is actually still kind of a neat process to watch, try it yourself and see.
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